Army chief General Manoj Pande gets a month’s extension amid intense speculation on successor | India News – Times of India

Army chief General Manoj Pande gets a month’s extension amid intense speculation on successor | India News – Times of India


NEW DELHI: In a highly unusual move that could impact the line of succession in the 12-lakh strong force, the government on Sunday granted a month’s extension to Army chief General Manoj Pande just six days before his slated retirement on May 31.
The inordinate delay in announcing the successor of Gen Pande, who took over as the 29th Army chief in April 2022 and turned 62 this month, had already triggered wide-spread speculation that a supersession in the military hierarchy is in the offing, amid the continuing confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh as well as the impending move to create integrated theatre commands.
The extension by the PM-led appointments committee of the cabinet (ACC) will add further grist to the mill since the next senior-most Army officer, vice chief Lt-Gen Upendra Dwivedi (Jammu and Kashmir Rifles), as well as the one after him, Southern Command chief Lt-Gen Ajai Kumar Singh (Gorkha Rifles), are both slated to retire on June 30.
The Army, Navy and IAF chiefs can serve till 62 or for three years, whichever is earlier, while a Lt-Gen rank officer retires at 60 unless he is approved for the four-star rank.
A top government official, however, told TOI that “any speculation or controversy is unwarranted” because it had been decided that no senior post would be filled before the election process is completed.
“No top-level military or civilian posting has been done in the last one month. The next Army chief was scheduled to take over on May 31, one day before the last phase of polling. Now, the next government can announce the new Army chief in mid-June, who will then take over from Gen Pande on June 30 (both Lt-Gens Dwivedi and Singh will still be in the reckoning),” the official said.
The election model code of conduct, however, did not prevent the government from announcing on April 19 that Admiral Dinesh K Tripathi would take over as the new Navy chief from Admiral R Hari Kumar on April 30.
While Lt-Gens Dwivedi and Singh are both from the same course, the former became the GoC-in-C of the Udhampur-based Northern Command in Feb 2022 and then the vice chief in Feb this year. Lt-Gen Singh, in turn, became the GoC-in-C of the Pune-based Southern Command in Nov 2022.
The next three officers in seniority, whose names were also sent to the ACC, are Northern Command and Central Command chiefs, Lt-Gens M V Suchindra Kumar and N S Raja Subramani, and chief of integrated defence staff Lt-Gen J P Mathew.
While there have been a few supersessions for the top post in the hierarchy-conscious armed forces, the only available example of an extension being granted was when Indira Gandhi extended the tenure of Gen G G Bewoor (who in turn had succeeded Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw’s also slightly extended tenure as the Army chief after the 1971 war) in 1975 to deny the post to Lt-Gen P S Bhagat.
The present NDA government has also junked the long-enshrined seniority principle two times during its 10-year tenure. First, it superseded two senior Lt-Gens (Praveen Bakshi and P M Hariz) to appoint Gen Bipin Rawat as the Army chief in December 2016, who later became the first chief of defence staff before he was killed in a helicopter crash in Dec 2021.
Then, Admiral Karambir Singh was appointed as the Navy chief in May 2019, superseding the then Andaman Nicobar Command chief Vice Admiral Bimal Verma. Both the times the NDA government contended it had taken the decision “based on merit, not just seniority”.
There have been other exceptions to the seniority principle in the past as well. Indira Gandhi, for instance, superseded Lt-Gen S K Sinha to appoint Gen A S Vaidya as the Army chief in 1983. Similarly, Air Chief Marshal S K Mehra became IAF chief by superseding Air Marshal M M Singh in 1988.
“Earlier, a new Service chief was announced two months in advance. These last minute decisions are not good for the morale of the armed forces. There is also increasing politicization of the armed forces, with some top officers actively seeking out politicians to push their promotion claims,” a senior officer said.


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